Structured Icebreakers explains what an icebreaker is and gives three short examples that can be used to initiate team meetings where high levels of participation is the intended outcome.

Icebreakers are structured activities that are designed to expand team member awareness and understanding of one another. It is a tool for energizing team meetings that are normally formal in nature rather than casual gatherings.

The term icebreaker is a maritime term. It pertains to ships that are constructed with strong hulls that break up the ice in shipping channels so that less sturdy boats can get through.  The term is used in training and development to help people move beyond their self contained personas into sharing information about themselves that results in expanded interpersonal awareness, which helps to build trust

Because Icebreakers are not normally related to initiatives, their sole purpose is to team build, dismantle cliques, and to break the ice. They also prompt self disclosed information about the employees who are present so more common ground can be built within the organization as a whole.  

Icebreakers are best organized by inviting team members to form random groupings in a non-threatening and fun way.  For example, it often helps to break the group into couples or trios. The smaller groups allow for more discussion and keeps participants from daydreaming or disengaging.  Smaller groups build rapport, and allow for “one-on-one” relationships to form.

You can also break large groups, such as company-wide meetings, into small groups by having employees discuss the activity with the person behind them, or having people take a different seat when they return from breaks or activities. The idea is to expand an employee’s awareness and understanding of other team members beyond their friends.

Listed below are 3 icebreakers to help you get started.  

Then please post others you have used successfully. We all get smarter when we share.


The Magic Lamp

You have just found a magic lamp you can rub to make your wishes come true. You have 5 wishes  that allows you to change three work related activities. You can change anything you want. How would you change yourself, your job, your boss, coworkers, an important project, etc.? Have employees discuss why it is important to make the change in their small groups. 

Another variation is to have them discuss what they would change if they become the boss for a month. This activity helps them to learn about others’ desires and frustrations.


You are marooned on a desert island. What three  items would you have brought with you if you knew there was a chance that you might be stranded? 

Note: you can use a different number, such as five and seven, depending upon the size of each team. You want to stimulate discussion.

Be sure the discussion groups understand that they are only allowed three items per team, not per person. You can have them write their items on a flip chart and discuss and defend their choices with the whole group. This activity helps them to learn about other’s values and problem solving styles and promotes teamwork.


The Interview

Break the group into two-person teams (have them pick a partner that they know the least about). Have them interview each other for about twenty minutes.

You can prepare questions ahead of time or provide general guidelines for the interview.

The discussion teams need to learn about what each other likes about their job, past jobs, family life, hobbies, favorite sport, etc. After the interviews, reassemble the group and have each team introduce their team member to the group. This exercise helps them to learn about each other and shows how well people listen and pay attention.